“According to the forecasts of professionals, with the use of masks covering the nose and mouth, thousands of human lives can be saved in Hungary over the course of the fourth wave,” the Presidium of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) announced in a statement on Monday. Despite the Orbán government positing that only the vaccine, not masks or social-distancing, can save lives, the MTA calls for everyone to cover their mouth and nose in closed areas, at group events, and on public transit.
MTA: Vaccination Our Primary Defense, but Masks are Not Out of the Equation
The Academy begins their statement by acknowledging that up until the arrival of the fourth wave, it has been thanks to the work of professionals and decision-makers that 60 percent of Hungary’s population has been vaccinated. “Nevertheless,” they add, “this ratio is not enough to prevent further large-scale infections and significant fatality-rates.”
The measures to increase the stagnated vaccination rate, such as information campaigns, vaccination buses sent to smaller localities, and vaccination programs targeted to the elderly and the disabled, have been unsuccessful according to the MTA.
With two and a half million unvaccinated citizens and the arrival of the influenza epidemic on top of the fourth Covid wave, the Academy of Sciences says that “leaps and bounds of growth need to be made in the population’s vaccination rate.” They highlight vaccination as the primary protective measure for defense against the coronavirus, also emphasizing that if healthcare professionals’ calls for the continued use of face masks are heard, thousands of lives could be saved.
Closed Areas, Group Events, and Public Transit
According to the MTA, the vaccination of the Hungarian population can only be grown if vaccinated citizens encourage unvaccinated citizens to get vaccinated. People need to take a stand against fake news and misinformation, they emphasize.
Together we can reach the point where no one gives validity to false, irresponsible, and dangerous assertions which posit that vaccination and face masks that cover the nose and mouth do not protect individuals from the Delta variant.”
The MTA calls on Hungarians to wear masks in closed areas, at group events, and on public transit. They also advocate for people to practice social-distancing whenever possible, and to use hand sanitizer.
The Chairmanship concludes its statement by calling on the 18 thousand Academy members, institutions responsible for informing the public, forums, and opinion-sharing public figures to promote vaccination and the use of face masks.
Gov’t Position on Masks Not the Same as Most Health Experts’
The position of the Academy of Sciences is not completely in line with that of the Hungarian government. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has previously stated that “when we had to wear masks and tried to isolate infected people, the effectiveness of those measures was low, while the effectiveness of the vaccine is overwhelmingly high.”
The Prime Minister’s stance is reflected in the government’s current policy on Covid. As measured in Europe’s COVID-19 Stringency Index, Hungary is one of the most lenient countries regarding its current Covid measures, with practically no restrictions in place since July.
While it may be pleasant to not wear a mask at all, there is a large body of Hungarian health experts, the Academy of Sciences among them, which advocates for the use of FFP2 masks. Zsombor Kunetz, for example, has stated that “Public transport is not ideal for maintaining distance, and masks should also be worn in congested spaces.”
Specialist pharmacist Szabolcs Dobson shared an American study published to medRxiv which found, based on 869 samples taken over roughly one month, that there is no difference in viral load among vaccinated, unvaccinated, symptomatic, and asymptomatic people infected with Covid.
The study advocates for the use of masks and testing “in all settings with elevated COVID-19 transmission.” Dobson also argues that there is no reason to neglect the use of masks and safety precautions, even if people are vaccinated or asymptomatic.
Featured photo illustration by Balázs Mohai/MTI